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Michael Fröschel
© Privatbesitz

Michael Manuel Fröschel * 1891

Schulterblatt 41 (Altona, Sternschanze)

1942 Auschwitz

Michael (Michel) Fröschel, born on 24 Oct. 1891 in Przemysl, arrested on 20 Nov. 1940 in Brussels, detained on 27 May 1941 in the Fuhlsbüttel prison, deported on 10 Dec. 1942 to Auschwitz, murdered there on 16 Jan. 1943

Schulterblatt 41

Michael Fröschel was born the fourth of five children of the married couple Schajndel and Leib Fröschel. The family belonged to the Jewish-Orthodox community of Przemysl, comprised of more than 20,000 members, which during the period of the Habsburg monarchy – and the time Michael was born – was part of the Crown Land of Galicia and today is a Polish city on the border to Ukraine. Except for the youngest brother Adolf and the mother Schajndel, the entire family emigrated to Hamburg: the father, Leib, as well as the siblings Heinrich, Max, Eva, and Michael. The family belonged to the lower middle classes, with all family members having to "work toward a living every day,” as Michael’s son Lothar put it when interviewed.

After completing school, Michael Fröschel trained in Vienna as a furrier, obtaining the journeyman’s certificate. To him, the training was connected with the wish for social advancement. From 1912 onward, Michael worked for his older brother Heinrich at a ready-to-wear clothes store in Hamburg. When the First World War broke out, he was drafted into the Austrian Army and assigned to a territorial reserve (Landwehr) infantry regiment in Cracow. While doing his military service, he had a nervous breakdown and was discharged from the military hospital as unfit for service, with a diagnosis of severe rheumatism as well as gastric and neurological conditions.

In 1916, he returned to Hamburg. At his brother Heinrich’s place, he met Anny (Chane) Waldhorn (Brunstein). She was born on 10 Oct. 1895 in Storozhynets (German: Storozynetz) in Bukovina – today in Romania. The son they had together tells the following about his parents’ first encounter: "My father came to see his family in Hamburg and my mother already knew Heinrich Fröschel, the oldest brother. He said to her, ‘Why don’t you come by next Sunday. I have a surprise for you.’ That was it. And since this took place toward the end of the war … it thus happened shortly before they were married.” The brother’s hope was fulfilled: The wedding was held on 16 Feb. 1919.

Shortly afterward, Michael Fröschel started up his own business on Lobuschstrasse in Altona, and one year after the death of his father, in 1927, he opened a "retail store with furrier’s workshop” at Schulterblatt 41. It was "very popular and had many customers,” as the lawyer advocating the restitution claim filed by Michael Fröschel’s family reported in his letter to the welfare authority on 16 Nov. 1953. His wife Anny worked in the store from the very beginning. She took on sales and supported her husband when purchasing. Michael employed two furriers and three seamstresses. The Fröschels bought their wares from wholesale traders in Leipzig, and often traveling salesmen would come to the store.

According to the son, the married couple was very different: Anny had a markedly feisty personality. Having grown up as the oldest of ten children, she was used to "acting the boss.” He describes Michael, on the other hand, as a very soft, peace-loving, and "positive human being,” who attempted to avoid conflicts and problems by "simply turning around and leaving the room.”

Coming from a very musical family, Michael Fröschel found his serenity in music. His son recalls that it was a great source of satisfaction for him to make music with his children and also a means of overcoming difficulties. His musical talent found an audience not only in his own family. In the years before and shortly after his wedding, he led a small ensemble in the Schauburg cinemas at the Millerntor, which belonged to his sister-in-law Henny Sass. "At that time, the ensemble had a first violinist [Stehgeiger, literally, "standing violinist”] and a second violinist [Sitzgeiger, literally, "sitting violinist”]. The first violinist, that was my Dad.” His brothers Heinrich and Max were also very talented. Heinrich "performed before the queen of England in Karlovy Vary [Karlsbad]. At the time, he was a fantastic musician, causing him in one instance to throw a burning lamp at my father, Michael, because he had not rendered a piece one hundred percent correctly on the violin. The other brother, Max, was a really good tenor.”

The Fröschel couple had two children: daughter Ruth born on 9 Mar. 1924 and son Lothar born on 18 July 1926. Ruth subsequently attended the Israelite Girls’ School on Karolinenstrasse and Lothar the Talmud Tora Realschule on Grindelhof. Today he describes it as a place that provided children – apart from first-rate educational opportunities – with a certain degree of protection from Nazi persecution. When after 1933 students of the neighboring school on Beneckestrasse threw rocks at the Jewish children, the school administration changed the starting times and breaks. A wide-ranging spectrum of afternoon activities bound the children together, and the school succeeded in softening the effects of anti-Semitic discriminations, at least in the beginning. However, on the way to and from school, the children were exposed to abuse and rocks thrown.

Michael Fröschel suffered to such an extent from the anti-Semitic insults and the boycott of Jewish stores on 1 Apr. 1933 that the couple decided to emigrate to Brussels with the children. They stayed for a couple of months, though returning to Hamburg in early 1934, since the parents did not manage to feel at home in the foreign city, without language skills and their business. Moreover, they hoped that things would "not become so horrible after all with the Nazis.”

Initially, the persecution affected the closest family members. From Hamburg, the oldest brother Heinrich Fröschel was expelled to Zbaszyn together with his sons Kurt, Erwin, and Herbert in Oct. 1938, and the same happened to the second brother, Max (Meier David Fröschel with his German wife Henny and son Heinz Leon, as well as to the husband of his sister Eva, Leon Kitz. In contrast to his siblings, Michael Fröschel had German citizenship and was thus spared the expulsion.

Shortly afterward, on 18 Nov. 1938, the foreign currency office at the Hamburg Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsident) withdrew from him the authority to manage and represent the company, appointing Adolf Berkelmann as a trustee. The latter was to prepare the handover "into Aryan hands.” The standard grounds given were as follows: "Mr. Michael Fröschel is a Jew. It is to be expected that he will emigrate before long. Considering the experiences gathered in recent times with emigrating Jews it is thus necessary to withdraw from the person named the authority to manage and represent the company.”

In Apr. 1939, the sale of the store furnishings yielded proceeds of 140 RM (reichsmark). The value of the fur goods had not been established yet but the furs had already been handed over to the publicly appointed auctioneer Arthur Landjunk. Only a few days after the confiscation of the store, Michael Fröschel found himself forced to sell the property at Schulterblatt 41. As the preserved minutes state, the purchaser granted him permission to continue using the apartment on the second floor of the house at Schulterblatt 41 free of charge for the period up to 1 Oct. 1939. Nevertheless, the Fröschels had to vacate the apartment already in June 1939 and move to Grindelallee 176. In that summer of 1939, they tried for a second time to gain a foothold in Brussels: The siblings Ruth and Lothar had reached Brussels via Cologne on a children transport (Kindertransport) of the Belgian Red Cross on 1 Feb. 1939, taking along little baggage and 10 RM. They lived with relatives in the Chaussée de Mons, attended school, and waited for their parents to arrive.

In the meantime, in June 1939, Anny sold the property at Waterloostrasse 2, which also included a building. Her parents had lived there. Incidentally, the municipal administration of the Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Treasury, Real Estate Office, deemed it necessary to warn the foreign currency office at the Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsident): a fictitious "Jews’ mortgage” had artificially inflated the value of the property. Just exactly what – apart from an explicitly anti-Semitic attitude – the municipal agency wished to convey with the term "Jews’ mortgage” is not known. Certainly, it does not constitute a technical term from the world of finance.

In June 1939, Michael Fröschel arrived in Brussels, Anny in Aug. Both had crossed the border to Belgium illegally. In a corner of a room in the apartment, Michael set up a workspace and took on smaller jobs as a furrier. On 14 May 1940, the family was torn apart yet again, after German troops had invaded Belgium on 10 May. The Fröschels fled south in three different cars on a convoy transporting 15 family members. At an intersection, the gendarmerie pointed the cars in different directions: Anny and Lothar came via Paris – where they waited in vain for the others – all the way to Moumour in the Pyrenees. They looked for family members in, among other places, the Gurs concentration camp. Finally, they received word from a female relative in South America that some members of the family had returned to Brussels. Meanwhile Michael and Ruth spent only a short time on the coast before returning to Brussels. In Nov. 1940, the family was reunited there.

Shortly afterward, Michael Fröschel was arrested by the Gestapo. In pretrial detention, he wrote, "On 16 Nov., two men from the Gestapo searched for me in Brussels. I was not present. My wife told me that I was to report to them on 20 Nov. So subsequently, I went together with my wife and boy, though I was not aware of having committed any injustice in my entire life.” His wife and son waited in front of the Brussels Gestapo headquarters at Avenue Louise 453. After two hours, they were summoned to come in. Michael was lying on the ground, passed out. The Gestapo informed his wife that he would now be brought to Hamburg and sentenced there. The son recalls, "I was 14 years old. My mother was about to faint and I stood facing the scene and my mother at the entrance to the room and I did not know what to do next.”

What had happened? Former employees of the father had accused him of "racial defilement” ("Rassenschande") as well as sexual abuse of wards. For this reason he was returned to Hamburg and sentenced in 2 Oct. 1941 by "Criminal Chamber I” (Strafkammer I) of the Hamburg Regional Court (Landgericht) to a total penalty of five years in prison and forfeiture of civic rights for the same period. The charge of "racial defilement” was dropped in the course of the proceedings and the conviction was pronounced based on sexual abuse of female apprentices. The period of pretrial detention was not calculated against the prison term. Thus, the court – in its own formulation –went "to the upper limit of the legal range of sentencing,” prefacing the grounds for the verdict as follows: "According to his demeanor, appearance, and attitude, the defendant is the prototype of a Jews of the worst sort.”

Today, the deeds of which Fröschel was accused can neither be proven nor disproven beyond doubt. The Restitution Office (Amt für Wiedergutmachung) assumed that a conviction would also have taken place in accordance with the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, in this respect skepticism is in order: Even the "normal” administration of justice in the Nazi state was racially charged. Legal historian Gerhard Werle speaks of a special criminal law for Jews that was aimed at their destruction.

It also remains unclear why statements by the female witnesses were taken only in 1940, although the abuses allegedly had already occurred between 1931 and 1935. In addition, one of the female witnesses retracted part of her incriminating testimony during the main trial on the grounds that she had only provided it because "she had wished to get rid of the detective, who annoyed her with his interrogating, as quickly as possible.”

In the course of the restitution proceedings, a legal expert asking to what extent the other female witnesses, too, had been pressured when testifying, stated, "In my view, a penalty of two and a half years at the most would have been imposed on the convicted person, assuming throughout that proof of the statutory offense was established in full.”

On 23 Oct. 1941, Michael Fröschel was committed to the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel penitentiary. His wife Anny maintained contact. She wrote more often than the rigid regulations permitted, prompting a complaint by the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel penitentiary to the Hamburg Jewish Religious Organization (Jüdischer Religionsverband). Michael Fröschel performed labor in the penitentiary, with the latest work documented as gluing bags. The workshop officer in charge assessed him to be a "very good gluer.”

He would have been released from imprisonment on 7 Oct. 1946, had not in Oct. 1942 a decree ordered the clearing of concentration camps, prisons, and penitentiaries in the "Old Reich” ("Altreich,” i.e. Germany within the 1937 borders) of Jewish inmates and the deportation of the targeted persons to Auschwitz. On such a transport, Michael Fröschel, too, arrived in the extermination camp on 10 Dec. 1942 and was murdered.

To this day, his son recalls the image of the Brussels Gestapo headquarters when his father was lying unconscious on the ground in front of him. "Everything else is only imagination whenever I conceive of it, all the way to Auschwitz. I mean that part after his imprisonment here in Hamburg and then the unknown, that which you simply refuse to accept at all …”

Translator: Erwin Fink

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Christiane Jungblut

Quellen: 1; 2; 4; 5; 8; StaH 213-8 Staatsanwaltschaft Oberlandesgericht – Verwaltung, Abl. 2, 451 a E 1, 1 d; StaH 213-11 Staatsanwaltschaft Landgericht – Strafsachen, 7868/41; StaH 242-1 II Gefängnisverwaltung II, Abl. 10 St 173, 13 und 16; StaH 314-15 OFP, R 1938/3183, F 638; StaH 331-1 II Polizeibehörde II, Abl. 15 vom 18.09.84, Band 1; StaH 351-11 AfW, Abl. 2008/1, 241091 Fröschel, Michael; Werle, Justiz-Strafrecht, 1989, S. 698; persönliche Gespräche mit Lothar Freschel zwischen dem 30. Oktober und dem 3. November 2008 in Hamburg.

Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Recherche und Quellen.
Hier abweichend:
(2) Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 1509 Reichssippenamt, Ergänzungskarten der Volkszählung vom 17. Mai 1939

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